||August 11, 2000
Grey Owl and his life in Temagami
Guests at Dan O'Connor's Temagami Inn on Lake Temagami in the summer
of 1907 would hardly have noticed a teenage chore boy named Archie Belaney
who had recently arrived from Hastings, England.
Twenty-five years later he was Canada and the Commonwealth's best known
writer, lecturer and conservationist and had transformed himself into his
new persona, Grey Owl.
In 1999 $40-million dollar film on his life was produced.
Grey Owl's writing is still in print and numerous biographies and articles
have been written about him, including two long books in the 1970s when
his books were reprinted as a part of the new conservation movement.
By far the best biography is that of Donald B. Smith, a professor at
the university of Calgary who studied Grey Owl for twenty years before
publishing his definitive profile, From The Land Of The Shadows, in 1990.
Smith believes that Archie's unique personality and genius was created
by a combination of a strange English upbringing and his experience in
the Canadian wild that "led him to enter a fantasy world of his own making,
one which would totally devour him."
For a man who did not make it to his fiftieth birthday he led an incredible
Smith quotes from Grey Owl's "masterpiece" autobiography to show the
quality of his writing about the years he spent in Temagami and elsewhere
in the north: "The feel of a canoe gunnel at the thigh, the splash of flying
spray in the face, the rhythm of the snowshoe trail, the beckoning of far-off
hills and valleys, the majesty of the tempest, the calm and silent presence
of the trees that seem to muse and ponder in their silence; the trust and
confidence of small living creatures, the company of simple men; these
have been my inspiration and my guide. Without them I am nothing."
||Grey Owl on one of his canoeing excursions. From a copy
of an old postcard,
Archie Belaney, born in 1888, was part of a strange family and was raised
and educated to love language and music by two aunts. He lived for his
animals and his fantasy world of "red Indians."
He left for Canada in 1906 at age eighteen, stayed briefly in Toronto
and eventually took the train to Mattawa and on to Temiscaming.
In Temiscaming he met Bill Guppy, a trapper, and wintered with him and
his family where he was taught many outdoor skills. The Guppys had a piano
and Bill recalled that Archie was "a wizard on the keys, rattling out tune
after tune, picking up the songs we sang."
In the spring Archie travelled by canoe with Bill and his brothers to
lake Temagami where Bill was a guide and where Archie got work. Archie
soon made friends with the Native people of the area, especially those
summering on Bear Island two kilometres away near the Hudson's Bay post.
He also worked at losing his English accent and learning the local Ojibway
Archie noticed an attractive Native girl, Angele Eguana, who worked
in the kitchen of the Temagami Inn. She only spoke Ojibway but Archie persisted
and a friendship soon developed. Angel introduced him to her uncle John
Eguana, whose wife was the sister of Chief Frank White Bear, and to Ned
White Bear and Michel Mathias, who had a great influence on him.
John Eguana called him "the young owl who sits taking in everything."
Archie liked the owl connotation and later added Grey to it.
Archie made a trip back to England but soon returned and immersed himself
in the Temagami way of life. He later said that he was "adopted" by John
He also renewed his friendship with Angele and married her on Bear Island
in the summer of 1910. Their daughter Agnes was born in the spring of 1911.
He learned everything he could, including the Native language, and worked
as a trapper and a guide.
The pattern of restlessness that drove him all his life began in Temagami.
Besides going back to England, he took a bet that he could cross the 150
miles of Algonquin Park without detection by the rangers.
It was apparently a protest of the expulsion of Native people from the
park. He got caught, escaped, froze his feet and limped back to Temagami.
In the summer of 1911 he left his wife and daughter and relocated to
Biscocasing, 100 miles to the west, where he held various jobs, drank a
lot, got a woman pregnant, got into trouble with the law and hit rock bottom
on several occasions.
Over the years he came back to Temagami a number of times, and on one
occasion fathered another child with Angele. In 1925 he again stayed with
Angele and spent time with is teenage daughter Agnes.
That summer, as I stated in an article here on June 16, his life changed
toward his remarkable transformation to Grey Owl the author, lecturer and
conservationist when he met Gertrude Bernard (Anahareo).
Archie's wife remarried but always remembered Archie with affection,
as did daughter Agnes who married Albert Lalonde, a boat man on Lake Temagami
and had four children and had numerous grand and great-grands before she
died in 1997 at age 89. I interviewed her in 1995 and found her to be warm,
frank and articulate about her life.
|The late Agnes Lalonde, Grey Owl's daughter, and her son
Albert Lalonde, a resident of North Bay, pictured in 1998.
She recalled that Gertrude Bernard was her "chum" in 1925 and that she
was disappointed when 19 year old Gertrude went with her 37 year old father.
Years later Agnes released some film on Grey Owl which was shown in Toronto,
and Gertrude was there. Gertrude left early without seeing Agnes, however,
and Agnes was hurt.
Agnes received a third of Grey Owl's estate when he died in 1938. Dawn,
Grey Owl's daughter with Gertrude Bernard, visited and corresponded regularly
with Agnes and they became good friends.
The Ontario government officially recognized Grey Owl's contribution
in 1959 when it erected a historic plaque at Findlayson Provincial Park
It stated in part "alarmed at the rapid despoilation of the wilderness,
the wanton slaughter of wildlife and the threat to Indian cultural survival,
he became an ardent conservationist."
Grey Owl's grandson, Albert Lalonde of North Bay, and his family and
other relatives who still have a cottage on Lake Temagami, are proud of
Grey Owl in spite of his faults.
Albert and his wife and some family and friends, visited the site of
the recent Grey Owl movie and were very well received, meeting Pierce Brosnan,
who played Grey Owl, and Sir Richard Attenborough, the director. They were
later guests at the opening of the film.
Undoubtedly Grey Owl's complex and fascinating story will continue to
be told as a part of the history of Temagami and beyond. A new book, Grey
Owl's Collected Works was recently published and is available in local
||Pierce Bronson, left, visits with Albert Lalonde, Grey Owl's
grandson, right, and Colin Taylor - President of the Grey Owl Society of
Hastings, on the set of the movie Grey
| Bronson played Grey Owl in the movie. Photos courtesy of Albert
Heritage Perspective Home Page